Clifton Suspension Bridge


The Clifton Suspension Bridge must be one of the most famous and photographed bridges in the world.

It was planned as early as 1753 and was the subject of a number of design competitions.

St Vincents Rock and Hotwells c1756 Thomas Smith
William Turner c1790 Hotwells
Hotwells by William Turner c1790
Painting of Hotwells – c1790

After violent riots against a toll on Bristol Bridge (‘The Bridge’ at that point) in 1793, architect William Bridges unveiled a proposal for a new bridge that would pay for itself. He suggested a structure across the Avon Gorge in the spot where the Brunel-designed Clifton Suspension Bridge now stands. His design was so fantastic and otherworldly that the bridge that was ultimately built seems ordinary in comparison.

The multi-storey arch was to be flanked by six 40-ft storeys of rooms and galleries, containing homes, a granary, corn exchange, chapel and tavern, museums, general market, a library, a nautical school, offices, and stables. It would also feature a stone wharf on the Somerset side

Bridges was convinced the eye-wateringly expensive development would eventually amply repay investors, according to Eugene Byrne, the author of Unbuilt Bristol: The City That Might Have Been 1750-2050. However, it never raised the funds to go ahead.

William Bridges’ original design. Illustration – The Brunel Institute
A digital depiction of architect William Bridges’ 1793 proposal – Produced by Quid Corner
Francis Danby 1822
A painting by Francis Danby in 1822 shows the Avon Gorge from Ashton Meadows before the bridge.
The View from Clifton Down back down the Gorge before the bridge – Painting by Francis Danby

Building of Brunel’s design started  on 12th June 1831 but was halted by the Bristol Riots later the same year.

PBAN6518, Engraving of the rioters in Queens Square circa 1831

The building stopped again in 1840 this time because of lack of funds.

hotwells 1850 rw
Hotwells 1850 – Reece Winstone
Clifton from Leigh Woods c1850
1851 watercolour showing Clifton-side tower of bridge and the observatory
Suspension Bridge Towers 1851 Dr Brittan Reece Wistone
The two towers in circa 1851 – Dr Brittan

Suspension Bridge Construction

Clifton Suspension Bridge 8 Dec 1864
Nearing completion 8th December 1864 – Reece Winstone
Engraving Gateway to Clifton Suspension Bridge – Being Brunel
Clifton Suspension Bridge – Western Daily Press 1864
Clifton Suspension Bridge C 1865 RW
C1865 – Reece Winstone

A modified Brunel design was then finally built and the bridge opened in 1864. Sadly Brunel was no longer with us as he had died in 1859.

Clifton Suspension Bridge 1920 American Film
Clifton Suspension Bridge – Health and safety…


Black Eagle boiler exploded Clifton Bridge 1 Nov 1866 All seven crew killed – Bristol Museums York Collection 3473

Clifton Rocks Railway

Opened in 11 March 1893 The Clifton Rocks Railway enabled people arriving by train or paddle steamer at the Hotwells Landing Stages to travel up to Clifton.

Alternatively you could arrive at Clifton Bridge Railway Station at Rownham on the Portishead line, opened in 1866, and get the Rownham Ferry across to Hotwells.

Find out more about the Rock Railway at Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society (BIAS)

Clifton Rock Railway s
Clifton Rock Railway – Clifton Entrance
Hotwells Halt by Samuel Loxton 1919 – Bristol Railway Stations, 1840-2005 by Mike Oakley,
Port and Pier Railway 1870s R W
Port and Pier Railway 1870s – Reece Winstone
Hotwell Railway 1898 - RW
Port and Pier Railway at Hotwells 1898 – Reece Winstone
Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1922 R W
Port and Pier Railway Station 1922 – Reece Winstone
Hotwells Rail Station 1890s
Hotwells Railway Station in the 1890s
Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1922 R W
Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1921 – Reece Winstone
Site of Hotwells Railway Station in 2018
Site of Hotwells Railway Station in 2018

Hotwells Railway Station (originally called Clifton ) opened in 1865 and was connected to the port railway to Avonmouth. In 1871 it was taken over by Great Western Railway who connected it to Temple Meads via the tunnel under the Clifton Downs. The station was removed in 1921 to enable the building of the Portway Road.

Hotwells Landing Stages
Hotwells Landing Stages in 2016
Hotwells Landing Stage C1880
Hotwell Landing Stage c 1880 – Reece Winstone
PBAN4298, View of the River Avon taken from the Suspension Bridge. Bratt liner Monica Bratt is passing the Hotwells Pontoon c1963
Hotwells from Clifton Suspension Bridge
Hotwells from Clifton Suspension Bridge
PBA906 Shipping on river showing Suspension Bridge

Vessels -ss “Burrington Combe”, another aft and a Bratt Line ship aft of this. These vessels are dressed up with flags – civic occasion? Repair work under way on the river wall.

PBAN5228a MV Gertrud Bratt being towed by tug Sea Alert, passing under the Suspension Bridge.
ss westward ho hotwells landing stage c1937 rw
SS Westward Ho Hotwells Landing Stage c1937 – Reece Winstone
Bristol Queen at Hotwells Landing Stage 1957 RW
Campbells Bristol Queen at Hotwells Landing Stage 1957 – Reece Winstone

Rownham Ferry c 1875 R W
Clifton Suspension Bridge from Rownham Ferry c 1875 – Reece Winstone
Clifton c1920
Clifton c1920
P & A Campbell Passenger Steamer
Hotwells Paddle Steamer

Bristol - The Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge

speed boat racing avon gorge 1936 rw
Speed Boat Racing 1936 – Reece Winstone
PBA2062 Spring Tide, 18th March 1953. 37ft 9 ins – ‘Lakewood’ inbound.

The Grand Spa Pump Room was opened on the rock above in Clifton in 1894.

Grand Spa Ballroom 1894

Grand Spa Pump Room opened 1894

Alternatively you could arrive at Clifton Bridge Railway Station at Rownham on the Portishead line, opened in 1866, and get the Rownham Ferry across to Hotwells.

Rownham Ferry by William Henry Bartlett 1841

The Rownham Ferry is known to have operated in 1200.

Old Station Bridge by Steve Daniels
Clifton Suspension Bridge with the plug out September 2020